Newsweek International - - BEYOND FEAR - Nina Burleigh IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY ALEX FINE

At a glam­orous event in De­cem­ber at the new York Pub­lic Li­brary in Man­hat­tan, an in­ter­na­tional who’s who—princess Beatrice of York, model Kar­lie Kloss, David Rock­e­feller, Wendi Deng Mur­doch and Kerry Kennedy among them—gath­ered to honor the clos­est thing phi­los­o­phy has to a rock star: Martha Nuss­baum. The ele­gant source of their ad­mi­ra­tion was be­ing cel­e­brated at the third an­nual Berggruen Prize Gala; the award, which in­cludes a $1 mil­lion en­dow­ment, is given to “thinkers whose ideas have helped us find di­rec­tion, wis­dom, and im­proved self-un­der­stand­ing in a world be­ing rapidly trans­formed by pro­found so­cial, tech­no­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural, and eco­nomic change.”

The 71-year-old Nuss­baum, a moral philoso­pher and law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Chicago, is pas­sion­ately con­cerned with jus­tice and how it af­fects the per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal. But her in­ter­est goes be­yond the the­o­ret­i­cal; she is com­mit­ted to us­ing phi­los­o­phy to im­prove the very vo­cab­u­lary of pub­lic dis­course. Nuss­baum has writ­ten five ma­jor books ded­i­cated to this. The most re­cent, The Monar­chy of Fear, is an en­gag­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cri­sis from the per­spec­tive of emo­tion—how anger, dis­gust and envy have been used, since an­tiq­uity, to di­vide peo­ple.

Nuss­baum dis­proves the dig on modern aca­demics—that they all live above the po­lit­i­cal fray, in ivory tow­ers—per­haps be­cause she takes her cues from the OGS of phi­los­o­phy. “The great thinkers of the an­cient tra­di­tion were not de­tached from po­lit­i­cal is­sues,” she says. “Seneca was re­gent of the Ro­man Em­peror Nero, and he was try­ing to curb him from do­ing ter­ri­ble things. There was no es­cap­ing po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity.”

Fear has dom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion in the U.S. for a lot longer than Don­ald Trump has been pres­i­dent. But the noise of it has grown deaf­en­ing and de­bil­i­tat­ing in the past two years. Though Nuss­baum is cer­tainly adept at putting fear in con­text, as well as ar­tic­u­lat­ing how it is used for po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, she—and we—are equally in­ter­ested in how to move be­yond it. With hate crimes on the rise and talk of im­peach­ment ev­ery­where, there is per­haps no more press­ing con­cern. Be­low, a con­ver­sa­tion on how to “pu­rify” anger and find hope in the Trump era.

In Monar­chy of Fear, you write of the epiphany you had on the night Trump was elected pres­i­dent in 2016. I was in Ja­pan, iso­lated from my friends and un­able to ex­press my upset and fear in the usual way—by talk­ing to and hug­ging them. There was this churn­ing of panic as the news came in. I al­ready knew the elec­torate was di­vided, so why was I so ter­ri­fied? I re­al­ized peo­ple were feel­ing that way all over the place. Some fear can be good, but this was a seething cur­rent of emo­tion pre­vent­ing peo­ple from get­ting to­gether and talk­ing to each other about what we should do to fix the na­tion’s prob­lems.

How do you de­fine fear?

It is the most prim­i­tive emo­tion, and the first one felt by an in­fant ar­riv­ing in this rather painful world, in des­per­ate need of some­one to pro­tect them. When we feel help­less later in life, fear makes us scape­goat oth­ers. In­stead of fix­ing the prob­lems, we say, “Oh, it’s all their fault—those women or im­mi­grants are in­fest­ing our coun­try.” Rather than use­ful protest or con­struc­tive so­lu­tions, we get an­gry at these handy tar­gets.

Fear is also be­hind dis­gust, a vis­ceral re­ac­tion to our own mor­tal­ity and an­i­mal­ity—fe­ces and bod­ily flu­ids and such. This is true across ev­ery sin­gle so­ci­ety; we project gross­ness onto a racial or gen­der sub­group or caste. A big part of so­cial sub­or­di­na­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion is to as­cribe hy­per-an­i­mal­ity to other groups and use that as an ex­cuse for sub­or­di­nat­ing them fur­ther. And then we feel bet­ter about our­selves; we can be the an­gels, and they can be the an­i­mals.

Women, with their men­strual pe­ri­ods and child­birth, have al­ways been tar­gets of this in all cul­tures. They have come to stand for the dis­gust­ing body. There’s the long-stand­ing trope of racism, that black peo­ple are more an­i­mal. And Jews were of­ten com­pared to in­sects; Kafka’s Meta­mor­pho­sis was about how a man sud­denly turns into a cock­roach.

Dis­gust is some­thing that rears up at times when we feel help­less or fear­ful. All of a sud­den, you find peo­ple talk­ing in ways that we thought we had given up. Con­sider Trump, who talks about African na­tions as shit­holes and im­mi­grants as in­fes­ta­tions, like in­sects.

What is be­hind the dis­gust we are see­ing to­ward women to­day? Men are an­gry at women be­cause they aren’t do­ing what they are sup­posed to do,

which is sup­port men. They are in the work­place claim­ing their own rights and of­ten out­do­ing men. They are dar­ing to bring charges of sex­ual as­sault and ha­rass­ment. They are just not be­hav­ing them­selves! And so the de­sire to beat them down for be­ing dis­gust­ing be­comes pow­er­ful.

But it’s a new era. My own sen­a­tor, Tammy Duck­worth, an Iraq War vet­eran and am­putee, wanted to bring her sec­ond child to the floor of the Se­nate. They haven’t changed the rules to [ex­plic­itly] al­low breast­feed­ing on the floor, but that has hap­pened in other coun­tries. In New Zealand, the prime min­is­ter de­liv­ered a first child and made a big point of breast­feed­ing.

There are women all over the coun­try who are do­ing well, and many, many men who un­der­stand this is not “us vs. them” and who have grown up dif­fer­ently, who un­der­stand what it is to treat women with re­spect. There are enough of them that I think the misog­y­nists are a dy­ing breed.

There is a ten­dency on the left to blame con­ser­va­tives for spread­ing the rhetoric of fear. Fear re­quires be­lief that you will be harmed, and it is eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated by rhetoric. But ir­re­spon­si­ble rhetoric is not just on the right—it’s al­ways hap­pen­ing. And there are plenty of re­spon­si­ble con­ser­va­tives. [In Monar­chy of Fear] I con­trast Trump not with some Democrats but with Ge­orge W. Bush, who, af­ter 9/11, was very care­ful and re­spon­si­ble in his rhetoric. He said we are go­ing to go get the crim­i­nals who did this, but we are not go­ing to de­mo­nize an en­tire re­li­gion or peo­ple. I don’t ap­prove of ev­ery­thing he did, but he was a re­spon­si­ble cus­to­dian of pub­lic emo­tion.

Can you give ex­am­ples of lead­ers who have been par­tic­u­larly good at that? Pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt was an amaz­ingly care­ful, re­spon­si­ble cus­to­dian of pub­lic emo­tion. FDR knew the Amer­i­can ten­dency was to think that when poor peo­ple are suf­fer­ing, it’s their own fault. The at-


ti­tude of the dom­i­nant class was “Oh well, they are lazy slobs who brought the suf­fer­ing on them­selves.” He un­der­stood that Amer­ica needed a new emo­tional at­ti­tude to­wards the poor, and he set out to show that the poor are peo­ple of dig­nity, wor­thy of re­spect. They suf­fer not through bad be­hav­ior or lazi­ness but through some cat­a­clysm not of their own mak­ing.

He even em­ployed artists to help com­mu­ni­cate this, through his New Deal [pro­grams and projects in­tro­duced dur­ing the De­pres­sion]. Dorothea Lange, for ex­am­ple, pro­duced some of the most haunt­ing pho­to­graphs of Amer­i­can poverty. John Stein­beck was writ­ing in the same vein. This was im­por­tant.

Mar­tin Luther King Jr. is my model for how to think about pub­lic anger. His is­sues as a cus­to­dian were quite dif­fer­ent; they were about how to shape emo­tions within his own move­ment, as well as the gen­eral pub­lic. What he said is that anger has a protest part, where you say that ter­ri­ble wrong has been done and we must not have that hap­pen again. But it also has a re­tribu­tive part, where the in­ten­tion is to in­flict pain on the peo­ple who gave us pain. He found that path use­less be­cause it’s not for­ward-look­ing or rad­i­cal—it is just an easy way of act­ing out.

He then said, “What do we do when we have these peo­ple who come with anger into the move­ment?” He said their anger has to be pu­ri­fied and chan­nel­ized and linked with dif­fer­ent emo­tions, such as hope, faith in the pos­si­bil­ity of jus­tice and, above all, love. You don’t even have to like these peo­ple, but you do have to have a ba­sic good­will to­ward their hu­man­ity and for their ca­pac­ity for good ac­tion. You have to have the sense that it is al­ways pos­si­ble for peo­ple to lis­ten and to change. Turn­ing out­ward to the white body, he would say, “Well, you left us with a bad check that’s come back marked ‘in­suf­fi­cient funds,’ but you can al­ways pay your debt.”

That was a won­der­ful way of shap­ing pub­lic emo­tion in the most dan­ger­ous and dif­fi­cult of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions. If he had not had that soar­ing and po­etic rhetor­i­cal power, the whole coun­try could well have burned down. It’s so im­por­tant that he lived.

You write about the im­por­tance of trust to a func­tion­ing democ­racy. Can you elab­o­rate? If you are in an ab­so­lute monar­chy, and the monarch is just ex­tract­ing sub­servience and obe­di­ence, you may be able to rely on what the monarch will do. But re­liance is dif­fer­ent from trust.

Trust means some­thing more; it means a will­ing­ness to be ex­posed and to al­low your project and your fu­ture to lie in the hands of some­one else. Think about a bad mar­riage. If some­body is rul­ing by fear, you might be able to rely on that per­son’s bru­tal be­hav­ior, but you wouldn’t trust that per­son.

A democ­racy de­pends on the idea that your hopes and fu­ture lie in the hands of peo­ple you don’t know. Bad de­ci­sions will be made, and your opin­ion won’t al­ways win, but there is trust that the out­come—more of­ten than not—will be one we can live with. And that re­quires a re­spect for the peo­ple on the other side, even when we think they are do­ing some­thing wrong.

But it’s more than re­spect; trust in­volves al­low­ing your­self to be vul­ner­a­ble—to not seal­ing off the out­come and let­ting it sit there in the bal­lot box. It’s a big de­mand that re­quires a cer­tain at­ti­tude to­wards the po­lit­i­cal process. I am very dis­tressed at Pres­i­dent Trump’s at­tacks on that process. We have lots of ev­i­dence that voter fraud is not an is­sue, but the con­stant harp­ing on it is a very bad thing. The same goes for Trump’s at­tacks on the me­dia. We need to be­lieve that the news—at least a lot of it—is true, and we need to rely on that for the po­lit­i­cal process to work.

What about the Chris­tian right and its sup­port for Trump’s ex­clu­sion­ary rhetoric?

Re­li­gion can be a very pow­er­ful source of hope, and some Chris­tian evan­gel­i­cals have fought back against that sort of rhetoric. Re­mem­ber when Obama called on the evan­gel­i­cals for sup­port [dur­ing his 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign]? He got push­back for that, but it was the right thing to do. You don’t want to close out one seg­ment of the pub­lic. You do want to say that there is no place for hate­ful rhetoric in Amer­ica.

How is hope an an­ti­dote to fear?

Usu­ally, hope is con­sid­ered the op­po­site of fear, and in a way it is. But what the philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion points out is that the two are very sim­i­lar: Both re­quire that the out­come, which is highly un­cer­tain, is go­ing to be some­thing mean­ing­ful and im­por­tant to you.

The Sto­ics [fol­low­ers of a Hel­lenis­tic phi­los­o­phy founded in the third cen­tury B.C.] taught learn­ing not to care about un­cer­tain things, about pulling all your cares in­side your­self. If you were a com­plete stoic—car­ing only for your own rea­son and will— then you would not have fear or hope. That was a nat­u­ral re­sponse in the world at the time be­cause so much was rapidly turn­ing into tyranny. But it was still a bad re­sponse. If you think, as I do, that it’s im­por­tant to love other peo­ple or your coun­try or things out­side your con­trol, then you are go­ing to have both fear and hope.

Cicero was a Stoic who loved the Ro­man Repub­lic—he fought to the death for it. At one point, he was mourn­ing the death of his daugh­ter and of the repub­lic. His friends told him he should stop and be a proper Stoic, and he said, “No, these are im­por­tant things, and I should grieve.” That’s how I think we should fol­low his ex­am­ple—hope­fully with­out get­ting mur­dered by po­lit­i­cal as­sas­sins! He stuck his neck out, quite lit­er­ally, for the as­sas­sins’ stroke.

But hope is not a mat­ter of prob­a­bil­i­ties, right?

True. You could have a rel­a­tive ill in the hos­pi­tal, and the prob­a­bil­ity of a pos­i­tive out­come is not very good, but you could still have hope. On the other side, the prob­a­bil­i­ties might be very good, but you could still have fear and have crip­pling anx­i­ety.

But hope is also not just an emo­tion; it’s a syn­drome linked to ac­tion. An im­por­tant young fe­male philoso­pher, Adri­enne Mar­tin, wrote a very good book on this:

How We Hope: A Moral Psy­chol­ogy. She points out that hope is a way of look­ing at a sit­u­a­tion with a dis­po­si­tion to act. If you are fear­ful, the ac­tion ten­dency is to run away and hide your head. But hope is: I will get in there and try to make this good out­come more likely.

Hope en­er­gizes us. It gets us to run for of­fice or sup­port can­di­dates. We won’t do that if we sit back in fear and de­spair. It is some­thing you can pro­duce in your­self with habits of mind and heart that make it more likely that you will have that hope rather than fear syn­drome.

What are some prac­ti­cal habits of hope?

Ev­ery­one has to find their own way. It could be par­tic­i­pat­ing in pol­i­tics or join­ing a protest move­ment or prac­tic­ing re­li­gion. Cer­tainly, in Chicago, where I live, black churches are a cen­ter of hope for the com­mu­nity. My syn­a­gogue is so­cial jus­tice–ori­ented—the idea be­ing that each per­son can do some­thing for the com­mu­nity; we have gar­dens and pro­duce fresh pro­duce for the poor.

A big con­stant is the arts, which are tremen­dous schools of hope. What­ever the work is, even if it’s re­ally grim, artists get us to ex­am­ine the in­sides of peo­ple in a way that isn’t filled with dis­gust, that leads us to a deeper un­der­stand­ing.

I’m about to teach a course on Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Sales­man. It’s a ter­ri­fy­ing play about Amer­ica and the de­struc­tion of the Amer­i­can dream, but it opens up some­thing in our own com­mu­nity and in peo­ple that we might not have un­der­stood. Artists have a vi­sion of hu­mans as ca­pa­cious; they don’t view peo­ple as tools, and that at­ti­tude pro­motes habits of hope.

But so does phi­los­o­phy. The lib­eral arts ed­u­ca­tion is such a great school of cit­i­zen­ship be­cause it has the imag­i­na­tive part, as well as the So­cratic part. So­cratic phi­los­o­phy gets you to a model of ra­tio­nal, re­spect­ful de­bate. If you’re in a phi­los­o­phy class, you’re not go­ing to be yelling at some­body; you’re go­ing to be dis­sect­ing their ar­gu­ment and try­ing to fig­ure out what the premises are, whether the premises lead to the con­clu­sion and, if not, what went

wrong. You get into the habit of ra­tio­nal, re­spect­ful de­lib­er­a­tions, and that is an im­por­tant prac­tice of hope.

You talk of ra­tio­nal de­bate. How do we get back to that?

I am cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a new course, Con­flict­ing The­o­ries of Jus­tice and Law, for stu­dents who are po­lar­ized. I want to give them a safe space to ar­gue to­gether. They’ll be pre­sented with con­ser­va­tive, lib­er­tar­ian, lib­eral and more rad­i­cal the­o­ries, and then they can ask them­selves where they fit into the de­bate. That is one of the most hope­ful things of all—a class­room where peo­ple who dif­fer greatly can talk with friend­ship and ci­vil­ity across tremen­dous di­vides.

I will be co-teach­ing it with con­ser­va­tive col­leagues, and that’s im­por­tant be­cause it might get stu­dents to choose a course they wouldn’t think of tak­ing. They of­ten vote with their feet, and they po­lar­ize them­selves. Our law school is unique among the ma­jor law schools be­cause we have the largest pro­por­tion of very con­ser­va­tive reli­gious stu­dents. If you are Mor­mon or evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian, you will not be marginal­ized or vil­i­fied the way you might be at Har­vard or Yale.

Any last thoughts on over­com­ing cyn­i­cism or ap­a­thy dur­ing these dif­fi­cult times?

I think we should honor peo­ple, like Cicero, who take risks, who are will­ing to get in­volved and who are not overly self-pro­tec­tive. Pol­i­tics is dif­fi­cult and painful, and the peo­ple who get in there and do it with good grace and joy—it’s one of the most im­por­tant things any­one can do.

To me, the cyn­i­cal re­sponse is to­tally un­ap­peal­ing. The an­cient Cyn­ics are very dif­fer­ent from what’s meant by cyn­i­cism to­day, which is think­ing ev­ery­thing is worth­less. If you think, as I do, that this is the only life you’ve got—well, if that’s not worth­while, what is? The world has so much in it that is won­der­ful and beau­ti­ful—peo­ple, na­ture, an­i­mals. I hope that young peo­ple, in par­tic­u­lar, do what they can to pre­serve the planet. It needs a lot of work if we’re go­ing to hang on.


EMO­TIONAL RES­CUE “Some fear can be good,” says Nuss­baum, above, but the 2016 elec­tion pro­duced “a seething cur­rent of emo­tion pre­vent­ing peo­ple from talk­ing to each other.” Clock­wise from left: Democrats watch­ing elec­tion re­sults in New York City on Novem­ber 9, 2016; Jean Louis David’s The Death of Seneca; Nuss­baum, left, at the Berggruen Prize Gala.

PER­CEP­TION/RE­AL­ITY “Fear re­quires be­lief that you will be harmed, and it is eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated by rhetoric,” says Nuss­baum of, among other things, ir­re­spon­si­ble ref­er­ences to im­mi­grants as rapists and an­i­mals. Clock­wise from left: A fam­ily talks to rel­a­tives through the U.s.-mex­ico bor­der fence; Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, whom Nuss­baum con­sid­ers a re­spon­si­ble cus­to­dian of pub­lic emo­tion; an iconic im­age from pho­tog­ra­pher Dorothea Lange, who gave no­bil­ity to Amer­ica’s poor dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion; U.S. Sen­a­tor Tammy Duck­worth.

FIGHT, NOT FLIGHTS “If you are fear­ful, the ac­tion ten­dency is to run away and hide your head,” says Nuss­baum. “But hope is: I will get in there and try to make this good out­come more likely.” Clock­wise from left: Trump in Novem­ber; King at a Lon­don press con­fer­ence in 1964; Cicero, the Ro­man philoso­pher who said, “While there’s life, there’s hope”; mem­bers protest­ing Trump’s in­cite­ment of racism and vi­o­lence in 2016.

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